The Rule of Heaven in the Old Testament, in Israel

Dallas Willard Part 3 of 9

This is one of Dallas’s most famous series on the kingdom of God, at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. He works historically but eventually works through the Sermon on the Mount and eventually speaks on themes of ministry, discipleship and disciplines.

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Dallas: Last time, our focus was simply on what exactly it was that Jesus said. You may recall that we took our departure from Mark 1:14–15, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus game unto Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God is now available. Think it out again and trust the message of the Kingdom.” (paraphrase)[1] [1:38][2]

We spent some time talking about Heaven and why, in Matthew, the word Heaven is used. I want to just review that briefly. It is used because of the Jewish experience with the government of God—and we are going to spend this second lesson mainly on that topic. Remember that I said when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven—and they are the same thing. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are the same thing. But when He speaks of it as the Kingdom of heaven, He intends to make the point about the direct, immediate availability of God’s action to individual human beings. That is what came out of the Jewish experience, and we are going to be looking at that in some detail. But that’s the main idea, and once you understand it, then you understand more about the content of His message. [2:40]

For example, Jesus’ discussion about worrying and how the flowers and the birds are cared for by God. This idea illustrates the direct availability of God now, not through a special avenue—the institutions of the Jewish nation—but directly, because that way of making the Kingdom of God available to people had now fulfilled its function. That’s what He means when He says in Mark 1:15 that “the time is fulfilled.” That work had been done.

There was now a group of people who had been prepared by the Jewish experience—the experience of a covenant people. This people had an agreement with God that when Jesus came on the scene, they would be able to look at Him and recognize Him.

Think about that a moment now. Not many people were able to do it, but a few were. And that’s why when we find Jesus asking His disciples, “Whom do people say I am?” (Matthew 16:13) They go through one thing and another and finally this ex-fisherman—well, he wasn’t quite ex yet— said, “You are the anointed One. You are the one who has come to really make it happen. You are the person who fulfills everything that was promised under the covenant relationship with the Jewish nation. You’re the one.” (see verse 16) That was no small thing and Jesus acknowledged it by saying, “Simon, son of Jonas, flesh and blood—that is, your own smarts—didn’t deliver that to you. You had some help.” (verse 17) Right? “You had some help.” And, of course, that’s exactly an exemplification of the availability of the government of God in that case. [4:58]

Now, I have to point at the fact [discussed at some length at the bottom of the sheet from lesson 1] that this message is the one which is continued in the days of the apostles and into the early centuries of the church. What message? The message of the Kingdom of God. You see, that’s why, for example, the Resurrection plays the role it does in the early Gospel. In the early chapters of the Book of Acts, you may notice that when it speaks about testifying, it never says we want people to testify or we are testifying to the death of Jesus to pay for our sins. It never says that.

You remember what it says? It’s always Resurrection and that’s because the Resurrection pulled together everything that Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Resurrection was the witness to the fact that no matter what men may do to you, if they do to you what they did to Jesus Chris . . . I don’t see anyone here today that looks like they have been through that. And in fact, the New Testament often uses that phrase. It will say, “Well, you haven’t suffered yet until you are bleeding.” Right? [6:30]

Because we tend to take on a lot about our sufferings, don’t we, and say, “Oh, where is God now?” Now, this is a large issue that we are going to spend time on. When you preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, the first thing people hear is, “Aha, something to bail me out. I can make my plan work.” Now, right? Doesn’t this plainly say that God will take care of me? But what does “take care of me” mean? We think it means, “I get what I want.” Right?

So, you see, when you hear the message, you say, “Whoopee!” You think you are signing on for a Princess Cruise. Then you find out you joined an army! Jesus didn’t veil this in the least. He said, “For whosever shall seek to save his life shall lose it: But whosoever shall lose it for my sake and the Gospels, shall find it.” (Mark 8:33) He didn’t hide it. He made it clear [and we will talk more about that later]. He made it very clear. [7:44]

So, here I am. I have my little bedraggled life and I hear about this wonderful good news. Whoopee! Here’s someone who will make it work for me. No. It was the wrong plan and I keep holding on to it. Don’t take this away from me, God. Don’t take my life. I want to play my cards. I want to win. I want to get to the top. And He’s saying, “You’ve got the wrong cards, and you’re in the wrong game. Let me give you some additional cards. Let me show you how to play the ones you’ve got. Let me put you in a different game” You see, it’s a different game. [8:18]

And God gets very, very big and it isn’t clear that people generally want to live in the universe with a God that big. Hmmm. And in fact, it’s pretty clear from Romans 1 and other passage in the Scripture. You know, Paul, he’s a pretty smart guy. He said, “People knew what God was like but they refuse to accept him like that.” They would rather have a snake or an alligator for a God, right? I mean, think of the difference in living in a world with an alligator and living in a world with an infinite personal God. There are a lot of people who would rather live in a cage with a three hundred pound gorilla than to have to live in a universe where there is an infinite personal God who one way or another is going to accomplish His will. So, it’s quite a challenge, but that’s what the Resurrection means now.

And I don’t have time to go into length on this, but if you will look at the passages that I have referred to under point IV on the lesson 1 outline, you are going to see that the continuing message of the church was the Kingdom of God. That is the Gospel. And you come down to the end of the Book of Acts and you find Paul sitting in a Roman prison of sorts and what was he preaching? He was preaching Jesus and the Kingdom of God—Jesus and the Kingdom of God! [10:08]

That’s not two things; that’s one thing. When you read 1 Corinthians 15—by the way, read it all because it’s all a statement of the Gospel—what is 1 Corinthians 15 mainly about? Resurrection! Resurrection! That’s the whole thing.

Now, certainly the death was important. Without the death, there would be no resurrection. The death was important. [It was] God coming to the lowest, most remote place that the human being comes, lying down in death. Because when you lie down in death, that’s it, isn’t it? You have to turn everything loose when you die. You turn everything loose. [11:03]

That’s why dying is so hard for many people. In fact, we have a real problem with people being able to die in our society today, because their whole being has been trained to hold on—to hold on. It’s far below their conscious mind. It’s in their bodies—struggling to hold on because of that dreaded moment when you have to turn loose.

Now see, what the death of Christ does is God meets man at his point of greatest need, so that we can die with him and be resurrected with Him. Read Romans 6 and you will see the union of these two things. You can’t separate the Resurrection from the death; nor the death from the Resurrection and understand the Gospel. They go together. They are two parts of one and the same thing. [11:59]

[All right, now, please take time to study through that material. I should explain, by the way, when we talked about the course, some of the people, who were indicating it might be a good thing to come, were saying that we wanted something to go more deeply than you might ordinarily do in a course. So, I’m gonna do that. Now if you don’t want to do that, but you want to come, you are welcome.

You can just pass up these outline sheets. If you’ve already got too many books to read or whatever—that’s fine. You know, don’t feel burdened by it. Don’t feel like you have to take a sheet when it comes by. Sometimes like passing a collection plate; you feel you’ve got to put money in. You pass a sheet, you feel you’ve got to take one. You don’t have to take one. It will be perfectly all right; just don’t take one. But those of you who do want to go more deeply, I am trying to provide material here on the basis of which you can do that.] [12:57]

One of the things that happens when we preach this Gospel is that we enter into—if we accept it, we trust it—by the way, this is a matter of trust. If you want to know the reality of this Gospel, you don’t just think, Well, it must be true so I’ve got it. No, you trust it! From the time you step out of your seat, you trust this Kingdom and you trust it day by day. That’s the way you learn its reality. [13:26]

You know the great passage in John 8 where Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32) It’s amazing how people will just start at the end and come back and chop off what they want. Right? We’ve got an elevator down at USC in the Humanities Building that just has “The truth shall make you free.” Apparently, you don’t even have to know it. It just works, right?

But Jesus said, “If you continue in my word.” That doesn’t mean you have a non-stop Bible Study from here into eternity. It means if you put into practice what I do, if you walk in it. Try it out. You’ll find it exciting. A lot of interesting things will happen. If you do that, one of the things that you find out is all your problems are not solved. You have stepped into a battle. Many people are confused about this because they think if the Kingdom is now, why am I in trouble? And the answer is, because there are some other kingdoms also that are now. [14:39]

You have to understand that to say the Kingdom is now available to you is one thing. To say it is the only Kingdom that is available to you or that will harass you, that’s something else.

There is a time coming. We all love to get together around Christmas, go to the Sing Along Messiah concert, and bust our throats singing “the Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” That’s not here yet, is it? See, there are other kingdoms. They don’t all print money, and have laws and an army. There are some kingdoms probably some places where you work—little kingdoms—and these are constantly coming at you and challenging you in relationship to the Kingdom of God—the Kingdom of Heaven—and you are learning now how to live in that Kingdom. [15:38]

And of course, then, there is another stage, isn’t there, which you find laid out in 1 Peter 1, for example, and many other places. That’s the point where not only are the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, but you’re in Heaven in the full sense. “You have now received your inheritance,” as Peter says, “An inheritance that’s incorruptible and undefiled and doesn’t fade.” (1 Peter 1:4)

You know, you go buy a new dress, and in a little while, you come back and it’s kind of faded. In this life, everything fades but there is a glory, which does not fade and you’re not there yet. So, we must understand that, so you will not be confused. When you talk about the presence of the Kingdom—the availability of the Kingdom—you are talking about something that is currently in competition with other kingdoms. [16:27]

And there is a point to this, and we will discuss that some as we go along later. The question that occurs to many people is, “If God is all in this, why doesn’t He just show up in this room and settle all the questions?” Well, if you knew what God was like and you were told that God is in a room, I guarantee you, you wouldn’t go in that room. You would not go in that room, because of what God is like. We have a little nuclear furnace about 93 million miles from here. That little thing is like a spark compared to what God is like. [17:07]

And that’s why, the Bible says repeatedly, “No man can look at God and live.” (Exodus 33:20; see also Deuteronomy 4:12–15; Isaiah 64:4; John 1:18; 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:16) That’s going to have to make sense to you. You see, you cannot plow around what you actually believe. If you believe God is a sort of “Wizard of Oz” character off in the corner of the universe, that’s gonna affect everything in your life. You cannot plow around your actual beliefs. Unfortunately, much that we do in religion sort of teaches us to plow around.

It teaches us to sing words that express beliefs that we haven’t even thought of? It teaches us to sing about doing things that we haven’t even considered doing and here we are singing, “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all I leave to follow thee.”[3] Well, when did you do that? Hmmm? When did you do that? [18:11]

One of our problems with so much of our religion is words. Jesus knew that. Jesus said, “This people’s words are close to me but their heart is on the other side of the world.” (Matthew 15:8) Now what I am saying is your heart is what governs your life and your heart consists mainly of what you really believe.

You are not in a position of saying, “Well, I better believe that thing so I’ll just believe it.” How you come to believe is another one of those matters that we need to speak of. The primary responsibility for the regeneration and growth of people in the Kingdom of God lies upon the minsters of the Word of God—people who do things like I do–standing around here talking to you. [19:07]

Now, I, as a talker, must never believe that the force of my intelligence is going to bring you to spiritual life. As a minster of the Word, I am practicing being in the Kingdom. If I didn’t accept that, you would see me walking on air to get out of here. But I know, and we will study this now, later, okay? We will study it. We will see how it worked with Jesus. It is the ministry of the Word that creates faith. Right?

So, you can desire faith. You can pray that God will give the Word power to reach into your mind to set aside the things that would crowd it out. You can seek faith, and you should seek faith. Don’t try to believe and don’t fake it. In fact, if you’ll just stop doing those two kinds of things and bring yourself before the Bible in an intelligent way, you are probably going to experience faith growing by leaps and bounds. The form it will take is “I really do believe this stuff. I’ve been trying for 85 years to believe this stuff, and I find that I am actually believing! [20:31]

See, that’s a confession of faith. You confess to crimes. What is a confession? It’s owning up. I believe what Jesus said. As much to my own surprise, as to anyone else’s, I believe it!

Now, when we come to the lesson for today, we are dealing with a wonderful guy named Nicodemus and apparently this happened to him that he had a rocky start. Jesus had a way—no doubt of a loving and gentle way—of just feeding you your words and making you think. When you think of Jesus, you ought to remember that He was quite an intelligent person. He probably understood logic and history and probably most of the things that we would count as knowledge. He knew about that. He knew what it was to learn. He knew what it was to study. He was an intelligent man.

One of the things you have to get used to is precisely that when He teaches His mind is working. And if your mind is not working, it will pass by you so fast, that you’ll be lucky to get a word or two to hang on to. [There are some cases of that, which we will be looking at in coming weeks.]

In John 3, we have a lovely man. Really! He was a good-hearted man named Nicodemus. The lesson for today, as you notice, is The Rule of Heaven in the Old Testament, in Israel and the first point is the professor who flunked the test—what Nicodemus didn’t know. [22:28]

Nicodemus was supposed to know, and he came talking as a person who did know. See, that’s the way we people who make our living talking do. We want others to know that we know. So, we will come along and we will indicate to them that we really know that they’re okay. That’s a way of letting them know that we are okay.[Laughter] Because if we know that they are okay, we must be “with it.” Right? [23:02]

So we do a lot of that and I am sure you can all identify a few episodes in your own life probably where—like in my business—the most common lie told is, “Yes, I’ve read that book.” We’ll give the invitation later. Yes, I read that book. People who are in this layer of social whatever, they want others to know that they know. Right?

So in John 3:2–3, Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, Teacher, Professor,”—you need to use language like that, because, what’s Rabbi? A Professor, right?—“Professor, we know that you are a teacher come from God. We know; for no man can do these things, these miracles, which thou doest except God be with him.” So, right off, Nicodemus stepped right in the bucket, because he knew that people could do not these miracles if God wasn’t with him. That’s one of the oldest lessons in the Bible. [24:19]

So Jesus replied, “Well, Nicodemus, you profess to be able to see God at work.” See, that’s what Nicodemus had professed to see, wasn’t it? He had professed to have been able to tell that when Jesus did these acts, these deeds, it was God doing them. So he had professed to be able to see the action of God in human affairs. Do you understand that? That’s what Nicodemus is saying.

Jesus was teaching him now and so He leads him right along and He said, “No man can see the rule of God.” When you read “Kingdom,” try these others words—rule, government, influence, reign, action—cause that’s what it means to rule, isn’t it? It means to act? So, Jesus said, “No one can see the rule of God unless he’s born again.” Born from above. Now, I always use the phrase—an additional birth. The term born again has been gutted of its meaning, by misunderstandings and misuse. One of the things you have to understand is to be born again does not mean to start over. That’s what it’s commonly taken to mean.

Does born again mean you get a new start? No, you don’t get a new start. You get something new, but you don’t get a new start. You get a new life. So, the way I use the phrase is these are people of the additional birth or if you wish, just the second birth. These are people who are going to have two births. [26:24]

Look at Nicodemus’s response. He’s flunking, isn’t he? At this point, when we are giving a doctoral exam, we start looking at the floor and thinking, well . . .

Participant’s comment: They draw a blank…

Dallas: Well, I think something like that, right? And that does happen to everybody, so we usually try to bail them out some way. I think Jesus was trying to be helpful here, too. But He was teaching as well as testing. His tests usually are designed to teach. [27:01]

See, Nicodemus asked, “How can this be? Nicodemus has immediately betrayed that he was thinking only in natural categories. Because when he heard the word birth, the only life he knows is the life that comes from the natural birth through a woman into this biological existence. So, now he’s really shouted. This is the second utter faux pas that this man is committing. He gave it all away.

So, Jesus said, “A person must have a birth by spirit as well as water.” (John 3:5) Water here. . . . I am just going to sail on by some of the interpretations that whole forests have been cut down to print books of controversy about it. What’s the water? If you read this in the context, you will see that water refers to the process of generation of babies from semen to the water, which births from the sac when the baby is born. That’s water, okay? So you have to be born of water and additional—another spirit—another realm now—the realm of the spirit—birth of the spirit. [28:36]

That is to say, you are to be given a life—a new life—a different kind of life. Not a second shot at the same old stuff; a new kind of life. There is going to be something implanted in you.

Now, when you go back to the story in the Garden in Genesis, what did God say to them—what would happen to them when they disobeyed? He said they would die. Right? Did they die? If you were to ask Nicodemus, did they die? He would say, “Well, no, they are still eating their vegetables and running around and making babies and things of that sort so they didn’t die. But, they did die. They died spiritually. They had a life in them, which they lost. That’s a death, right? They were cut off from their place in the rule of God. Now, they were put out, and they had to make it on their own. [29:46]

Remember, what did God say to Adam? He said, “From now on, you are going to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow.” (Genesis 3:19) Well, what’s different? Wasn’t he working already? Didn’t he have a job already? No. I want you to think about how he did that job before he had to sweat for it. Work didn’t enter after sin. Work is not the curse. That’s news, okay? Work is not the curse. It’s how you work that’s the curse. Work is the production of value. That’s what it means to be in the image of God is to live and produce value. Not sweat!

When it is done on your own, you sweat. “In the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread.” (Genesis 3:19) You are gonna eat your bread with the sweat pouring off on it to remind you that now you are on your own, you see? Hmmm? [30:58]

Of course, we’ve been very busy ever since trying to eat our bread in the sweat of someone else’s face. That’s a major job when we have is to figure out how to eat without sweat. No sweat means you are cool. Cool! Someone comes, “How you doing?” Right? “Cool! Cool!” What’s that about? That means you are living without effort. I’m not struggling. I’m not hanging on by my fingernails. I’m living without effort. I’m cool! Right? So, everybody wants to be cool.

A primary job in cities is a place where people go to live by the sweat of other people’s brow. If you are out in the country by yourself, there is nobody else’s face that can sweat for you. If you are going to have something to eat, you got to get it. If you are not going to freeze to death, you’ve got to fix it up. It’s your sweat. So, we’ll all head for the cities to see if we can’t get someone else to sweat for us. [32:03]

Cities don’t necessarily mean big cities. It’s just that people come together and they begin to live off of one another because they are in a system of death. They are cut off from the Kingdom of Heaven.

What’s the Jewish experience? The Jewish experience is the renewal of spiritual life in a covenant arrangement with a particular people that the world at large can once again learn how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what it’s about. [32:42]

You see, mankind said to God, “Go away.” When Adam was in the Garden and Eve (after they had done whatever it was that they did), God came to see them, and what did they do? They hid, didn’t they? They hid. God let them hide. Do you think God, if He wanted to know where they were, couldn’t have known? God was letting man hide, and in fact, helped them hide. He hides, because He’s so big that if He didn’t hide, they couldn’t hide. Now, that’s the simple truth. So, He’s hiding because we want him to hide. If God wanted to, you could look up every morning and see the Ten Commandments written on the sky. The first person that disobeyed one of them would drop dead. Do you think that wouldn’t get conformity fast? (Laughter) [34:00]

Listen, people would line up quickly. That’s not what God wants. That’s not why He made human beings. He made human beings for a different purpose. It has to do with love and freedom and understanding and co-working. It has to do with the extension of His glorious Trinitarian personality, which is just a way of saying that He is so great that one person cannot contain Him. You start within the very nature of the Trinity, and you begin to move out. By the way, the Kingdom of Heaven is mostly made up of angels. Except for God Himself, it’s mostly made up of angels.

You have to look at what the Bible says about angels. I’ve got a reference here to it in the life of Abraham. The angels don’t show up in the Bible until you get to Abraham. Hebrews 1:14 says that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to help those who shall be heirs of salvation.” Now, they have other jobs. Right? They have other jobs. There are other things that they do, but in relationship to us, that’s mainly it. [35:17]

Are you beginning to feel a little small at this point? I mean, after all, we have this infinite God and then someone comes along and says, “You know, the Kingdom of Heaven mainly consists of angels.” We are just getting smaller and smaller, aren’t we? We have to have everything in place and angels are extremely important in this story. I probably won’t have time to talk about it at length, but you have to understand that it’s an important part of the story. It’s an important part of how God makes Himself present to a people, a covenant people, that is moving out toward acceptance of God and empowerment by God so that they can actually reign on earth with Him. Okay?

Now Abraham is the Father of the faithful. Abraham himself was not a Jew. Well, what’s a Jew? Well, his parents weren’t Jews. Does being a Jew have something to do with your parents? Or not? Well, you see, we have now an interesting phenomena here. We don’t know quite what to make of it. [36:39]

Maybe Abraham became a Jew halfway through life. What makes a Jew? Well, I mean after all, didn’t they first—wasn’t he first called Abram? And then they even changed his name. (Genesis 17:3–5) Name changing is a big business in this. For example, the word Israel. (This is a part of the story—and I have references to it here on the sheet.) What does the word Israel mean? Where did the word Israel show up? Some guy named Crook—Jacob, Crook—was always on the look out. Talk about the sweat of someone else’s brow. He was always on the lookout for an angle. Right?

Well, Jacob was a man of angles. He knew angles, but at one point, as you will recall, he was in a corner—that’s what angles tend to do; they tend to get you in a corner—think about it. (I’ve known many people who work angles that don’t live in corners.) Jacob got in a corner and the only thing he could do was cry out for God. [38:19]

And there was God. He came and met Jacob in the person of something that it isn’t very clear how to understand it, but certainly some person that was either a God or a representative of him. Jacob just held on to him. He would not let him go, and he got renamed. His name now is Israel, and that’s what we have in the Middle East today—Israelis. Do you know what the name Israel means? Prince with God, isn’t that right? A Prince with God. “We are going to call you, ‘Israel,’ because you have prevailed with God.” (Genesis 32:22–32)

See, the whole idea of Israel is the idea of a people who live by the power of God. You see, that has to be something you want. Then all the way along, it is just driven in over and over and over. Look at number III in your outline. Let’s take time to look at Genesis 15:17–18. [39:30]

This is about an occasion after Abraham had known God for some time. You know, you have to think about these as real people. These were real people. They are not kind of—any of you ever see flannelgraphs? Isn’t it wonderful? I so loved them when I was a kid in Sunday School, and especially, if the teacher would let me put up the figures on the flannel board. But these are not flannelgraph people; they are real people and when you read their stories, you see that they have most of the knots and blotches and gaps and everything else that ordinary people have.

So the difference is that they were going to see. They waited and they held on and they put their commitment and trust in God’s action. And that’s the whole story of Israel now. I’m going to give it to you in a nutshell because a nutshell is about all that will fit in an hour. The whole story of Israel is seen in that word, if you understand that word Israel? Will you make a note of what it means? Think about why this man got that. See? That’s the whole story. If you read the Old Testament, you will see people who were identified biologically with Abraham going back and forth about whether they would trust themselves or maybe they would trust Egypt or Syria or maybe they would just hang on to God. Right? That’s the story. [41:08]

Now, watch Abraham in Genesis 15.

Participant’s comment: You say Israel means what?[41:14]

Dallas: Prince with God. Yes, because he had prevailed with God. You’ll find that reference in Genesis 32:28. That’s in your script here.

[I’m moving fast, and by the way, thank you for asking. Don’t hesitate to interrupt me. I trust you can tell that I am eminently interruptible and so hold up your hand or speak out or say, “What was that?” and that’s just great.] [41:40]

But, that’s what it means and if you study that, you’ll see the derivation of the term and what I am saying is that’s the heart of the faith of Israel now. That’s what Nicodemus didn’t really know. See—watch Abraham here in Genesis 15. We are going to have a covenant and when you “cut” a covenant, as they often say in this language, you “cut a covenant” and you have a sacrifice. But this is a funny sacrifice.

Abraham laid out the sacrifice in verses 9–10. God told him to “lay out a sacrifice. Take a heifer of three years old, a she goat of three years old, a ram of three years old, a turtle dove and a young pigeon. And he took all of them and divided them in the midst and laid them piece by piece against one another, except for the birds.” (Genesis 15:9–10) [42:33]

What’s important about this passage is what Abraham did next; look at what he did. I mean what do the buzzards do when they see a bunch of dead bodies lying down there. They come for them, right? So, what does Abraham do? He shoos them away. What’s he waiting on? Let’s have the sacrifice. Right? Isn’t that the reasonable thing to do?

Now, I want to tell you something that’s a little scary. I’ll have a few comments at the end of the hour today that may help you some with it. It will do you a lot of good to just take your concordance and go through the Old Testament and see how many times a fire appears out of nowhere. [43:25]

Many people think, “Wow, that Elijah he was something to think of that trick.” You know? Elijah didn’t think up that trick. Elijah was simply a faithful prophet in a people who had by that time, had centuries of experience with this. (See 2 Kings 18:31–39)

Now, look at what happens. Here’s Abraham just sitting around shooing off the buzzards, and now God begins to speak to him. “Know for sure that your children, your seed, will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, . . . four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13) Can you imagine how this staggered his mind? He had already responded to the Word of God, he had left his people in Ur of Chaldees, and he went out not knowing where he was going. You remember what I said about trust and faith? When you see Abraham and you read that word faith, you are looking at trust. This man trusted. [44:30]

We have a lot of churches around named Faith Church. I don’t know a one named Trust Church, do you? Because trusting is right down there where it’s all clear, whether you do or not. That’s one of the things we really know about one another. We really know about one another how much we trust God. We don’t like to talk about it very much, but we really do know it.

Abraham trusted God, and so he just kept waiting. Look at verse 17: “It came to pass that, when the sun went down, it was dark and behold a fireball—a lamp of something; a furnace, some of the translations say a furnace—like a furnace just levitated in where the animals were laid out for sacrifice and passed between those pieces. (Genesis 15:17) Now, the point is that it consumed them. It didn’t just pass them by and go on and leave them there. It consumed them. They were consumed. [45:41]

What did Abraham know? Abraham knew that God was on the scene. See, that’s what this is all about. That’s what it’s all about. Did Abraham stay faithful to this? No! He got off base with a little help from his friends. The next thing was his progeny was going to have to come by an action of God, because Abraham and Sarah got old, and couldn’t have babies anymore.

And as you will see in your readings there, in the notes that I have given you, Abraham had to wait. So Sarah said, “You know, I can have a baby by my maid. Abraham and my maid.” Well, that wasn’t disgraceful in those days, okay so it was a perfectly reasonable thought. Of course, that’s the whole point; it was reasonable within the natural. Abraham’s seed is still looked after whether it came through Hagar or through Sarah. It’s a very deep connection with international implications there—very serious problems. Note that the angel first shows up in the Old Testament in relationship to Hagar and her son. [47:02]

Abraham did not wait forever. He should have kept shooing the buzzards off, but he let a bunch of them land and had a lot of trouble because of that. And it’s still going on because of that—no reflection against the children of Hagar. It’s just a reality; there it is.

Because God, when He is making a covenant with someone, is challenging them to wait on Him, to believe on Him. And when He came to tell Sarah and Abraham that now is the time; you remember what Sarah did—she just fell down laughing—just fell down laughing. Abraham laughed. See that’s the kind of—I’m sure, you know that’s the response—you’ve waited and you’ve waited and you’ve waited. It’s become impossible; you’ve given up, and now someone comes along and says “Hey, it’s all here. Ha! Yea, what else is new?” [48:02]

See? That’s the rule of God. That’s what goes with an additional birth, you see? Jesus in teaching this lesson to Nicodemus said, “The wind blows where it wishes. And you hear the sound but you can’t tell anything about it, but you see its affects.” (John 3:8)

Someone was saying this morning [I think on a television program] that the great thing about trees is that they allow you to see the wind. But if you live out where we do, you get tired of seeing the wind. Still there is a point to that. What Jesus is saying is that there is another reality. Now then, you have the verse which is given here of Genesis 21:1, “The Lord visited Sarah.” The Lord visited Sarah. [49:06]

Now, the history of Israel goes on. I am not going to cover the additional points here. I want to come quickly to the end of the lecture for today and talk about fairy stories. Because, if you don’t have or you are not taught and your mind is not liberated to where you can think some thoughts about God and His nature, all of this stuff is totally unreal. You might as well be reading Bulfinch’s Mythology. You really might just as well, and all the wonderful things about Odysseus, and all of these other myths that come to us. You might as well be reading them.

The big thing to understand is that God really is infinite power and I put down there at the end of the lesson sheet for today, the most theological and devotional significance of this little equation from Physics.

Participant’s comment: Would you please say where it is? At the bottom? [50:16]

Dallas: Yes, if you look right at the bottom of your sheet—thanks for letting me know that—you’ll see under VII, e = mc2. We use this equation by working with that sign, and we think we’ve done a lot. It certainly is impressive, because we can now take a piece of matter and we have a way of working on it to liberate the energy which is equal to its mass times the square of the speed of light. But what if you wanted to convert energy into mass?

The theological term for that is creation and miracle. God is energy. He is a form of energy. We have some little experience of it in ourselves. I have some of that energy in me; basic stuff that governs my thoughts and my actions. It doesn’t do all the work because my energy is able only to tie into this body and make it do things like stand up here and talk and wave my hands. I couldn’t create an atom of matter; I don’t have that much energy. Sometimes, I can’t even get out of bed. [51:41]

Now, There are these big linear particle accelerators up the coast here [Menlo Park, California] and over in Illinois [Batavia, Illinois], one of the interesting things they try to do with that is to create matter from energy. They shoot protons and anti-protons around those things and try to get them up to the point to where they have enough energy that when they collide, the effect will be particles that have more mass than the protons.

When you think of an automobile wreck in which you have a Toyota Corolla and a Buick and they are going so fast that when they run in to one another, the result is a bulldozer and a Mack truck. That energy is expended and it goes over into matter. [52:31]

You must think about this, because it determines what you will actually believe about God. You must understand that God’s power in this world is a real power. You must accept it and begin to live your life in such a way that you are counting on it. And when you do, you will meet it. You will meet it not in the form of an atom bomb (I hope you won’t because you couldn’t make much use of that). It will be finally calibrated to you to where you are in your beliefs—where you are in your thoughts and it will always be an open door to more of the same. [53:12]

One final word—what we call that in New Testament terms is grace. Grace! Grace! You know, we say, “Grace be to you” and so on? What we are saying is, “Power be to you.” Grace—charis—is the word from which we get our word gift, charisma; or gifts, charismata. Grace is not a credit arrangement in the bank of Heaven.

Now, often we treat Christians as if it were kind of like a barcode. People all look the same except some of them have the barcode. And when you slide them across the gate of Heaven, it opens. But that’s not right. Christians are people with a new life. They are disciples of the Kingdom of Heaven. They are living a life, which is impossible in the natural. That’s the meaning of grace. [54:19]

“Gracious Lord, we pray that you would be real to our hearts and minds. We are glad that you love us for the way we are and you made us and you have great things planned out for this world—that you want us to be a part of your business and we thank you for the wonderful invitation. We just ask you to keep at us with your word. Amen.”


[1] Note: Many of Dallas Willard’s Scripture quotations were made from memory, so a majority of them were paraphrased (although some varied only slightly from the King James Version of the Bible). Except for this first one, these are not marked. Those from specific Bible versions are noted.

[2] Numbers in brackets indicate the time index of the recorded lecture.

[3] Henry Francis Lyte, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” 1825.

Listen to all parts in this A Series on What Jesus Believed and Taught—And Lived series